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Arizona schools could remain closed through end of school year

Lawmakers contingency plan to be announced Wednesday
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Posted at 8:51 PM, Mar 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-19 23:22:40-04

Arizona public school students may not return to class before the end of the school year.

State lawmakers plan to announce a plan Wednesday, which would include the possibility that students complete lesson plans at home through the end of May.

Under the plan, detailed to ABC15 by Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Sylvia Allen, lawmakers would suspend a rule requiring students to be in school a minimum of 180 days, so students would not have to return to make up days over the summer.

Instead, schools would be required to develop alternative methods to deliver lesson plans. Some schools would go online; others would send out packets to be delivered by the schools’ regular bus drivers. The legislation provides funding for buses to act as a delivery vehicle for educational materials, and meals to low income students.

“We don’t want to see our children go without their educational needs,” Allen said.

The bill, expected to be drafted this week, would also move statewide assessment testing to May 31 if schools resume in two weeks. Governor Ducey issued an executive order Sunday ordering schools closed through March 27.

"Our priority is to make sure during this unprecedented time we're still educating our students," said Rep. Michelle Udall (R) Mesa District 25 sponsor of the school contingency bill.

If, however, schools remain closed past that date, statewide assessment testing would be suspended for the year. Students who normally take the AzMerit test during March would not be required to take it. Schools and school districts would be “held harmless” for annual letter grades assigned to each school.

If schools remain closed the remainder of the year, Udall said the state will do its best to provide the tools necessary to educate the students at home.

"That's really going to depend on the situation. We have a vast difference in our communities throughout the state,” Udall said. “We have very rural districts where it's going to be harder to get stuff to them and we have places where they have one to one devices and it will be easy to apply things electronically. So we really leave that largely up to the districts to create a plan for getting and delivering educational materials."

The 180-day requirement had been a source of concern for teachers, who worried they would be forced to burn through sick time while schools are closed, only to return in the summer. The legislation, Allen says, would also suspend rules requiring a minimum number of hours in the classroom and allow all teachers and staff to be paid without disruption.

Still unclear, just what schooling from home, known as “distance learning,” will look like for parents.

“We’re not wanting to overwhelm parents at home,” said Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, who said learning from home will take on different forms depending on the district and its resources.

While some schools can easily transition to online learning, others serve low-income students who don’t have access to high-speed internet. “Let’s be sensible. Distance learning is going to look different,” he said.

The legislative plan also includes a direction to the State Board of Education to develop guidelines allowing high school seniors to complete their course work and graduate on time, Allen said.

The legislation also suspends rules governing special education, allowing for alternative learning plans for students with special needs, Allen said.

The legislation also modifies timelines for school district financial reporting.

While lawmakers won’t say for sure if schools will close through the end of the year, they acknowledge it is a strong possibility.

“It’s hard to predict. Things change every day,” Allen said. “We just wanted to be prepared.”

Allen believes the legislation could be drafted as early as Wednesday and passed through the house and senate by Thursday.